Rafah border crossing Sinai Gaza370.
(photo credit: Reuters)
If Egyptian sources are to be believed, it was an Israeli drone that killed four
terrorists belonging to the al-Qaida-affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis
organization on Friday as they prepared to fire rockets at Israel from northern
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who neither confirmed nor denied
that the IAF was responsible for the attack, issued a response on Saturday that
underscores the dilemma Israel faces in dealing with the threat emanating from
the Sinai Peninsula.
“The State of Israel respects Egypt’s full
sovereignty,” Ya’alon said. “We will not allow rumors and speculations, which
have developed in the past 24 hours, to harm the peace treaty between the two
On the one hand, Israel has a moral obligation to defend its
citizens from rocket attacks launched from Sinai – particularly in the case of a
“ticking bomb” as was, apparently, the situation on Friday. At the same time,
protecting the groundbreaking peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979 is a
vital Israeli interest. But according to that agreement, Israel is forbidden to
stage military incursions in Sinai.
Successive Israeli governments have
meticulously adhered to these guidelines over the three decades since Menachem
Begin and Anwar Sadat made a cold but stable peace. As the security situation in
Sinai has deteriorated, however, particularly after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak,
Israel has increasingly been forced to divert resources to combating the threat
from the south.
Besides accelerating the construction of an NIS 1.5
billion security fence running along the 240-km. border with Egypt, it has
deployed one of the IDF’s Iron Dome anti-missile batteries near Eilat, doubled
the combat strength of the Edom Division on the frontier, created a new brigade
to protect the Eilat area, and beefed up its intelligence network.
steps have had only limited impact and do nothing to counter the empowerment of
a myriad of new forces that have seized control of the Sinai Peninsula from the
Egyptian government, from Beduin Salafists and global jihadists to
Indeed, the more aggressive defense of
our border against drugs and arms smuggling has actually strengthened the
economic ties among various Islamist groups in Sinai and the Hamas-controlled
Some argue that the improved ties between Gaza and Sinai are
in Israel’s interest. By blocking our border with Gaza and by encouraging ties
between Gaza and Sinai, Israel would help the Strip’s population shift its
aspirations for living space from Israel (“Palestine”) to northern Sinai, and
resolve its problems of overcrowding at Sinai’s expense.
is a risky tactic. An emboldened Hamas could hardly be expected to desist from
terrorist attacks against the Jewish state.
Egypt’s remilitarization of
Sinai, particularly in the wake of Mohamed Morsi’s ouster and the return of the
military to power, seems preferable, or the “least worst” alternative, from
Indeed, Israel has agreed to alter the terms of the
Camp David peace treaty, allowing Egypt to deploy several armed battalions in
the “demilitarized” northeastern Sinai, and has permitted Egyptian soldiers to
be positioned at dozens of border posts, hitherto manned only by civilian
police. And the generals who have replaced the Muslim Brotherhood at Egypt’s
helm have taken a much more aggressive tack against the Islamists in
Israel and the present Egyptian leadership have a common interest
in neutralizing terrorist groups operating in Sinai, though Cairo could never
admit to coordinating military actions with Israel against the Islamists. Still,
Egyptian officials tipped off Israel of a potential rocket attack against the
Eilat Airport, resulting in its temporary closure last Thursday.
of the battle against Sinai’s Islamists, Israel and Egypt have agreed secretly
or publicly to alterations to the Camp David accords. It seems the old
arrangements underpinning security relations between the two countries are
out-dated and ill-suited to an era when a quasistate run by Hamas has emerged in
Gaza and when a hodgepodge of Beduin clans, al-Qaida-affiliated organizations
and Salafists have filled the security vacuum in Sinai. Perhaps the time has
come for Egypt and Israel to rethink these arrangements in an effort to confront
the challenges emanating from Sinai.